Scratch Programming: Teaching Children to Be Creators Rather Than Consumers
Designed by the Life Long Kindergarten Group at MIT’s Media Lab, Scratch is a programming language that allows children to become creators in a world where they have historically been limited to the status of consumer. We live in an age in which computers and technology dictate how we live our lives. Children learn to manipulate this world at an early age, learning mouse and keyboarding skills in preschool. By the early years of elementary school they appear to have become so adept at navigating the technological world that they are even more tech savvy than their parents and teachers. The truth, however, is that all they have learned to do is follow a set of procedures and rules designed by someone else. Since the public release of Scratch in 2007 children now have the opportunity to reverse these roles and exist in a world where they have the power to design and create according to their own rules. It is in this world that creativity is born.
When the Scratch Team, led by Mitchel Resnik, started to develop the language in 2003 their initial intentions were to introduce children to the critical thinking skills most often associated with math and science performance. In an article in Communications of the ACM in November of 2009 Resnik had this to say about the project’s goals:
As Scratchers program and share interactive projects, they learn important mathematical and computational concepts, as well as how to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively: all essential skills for the 21st century. Indeed, our primary goal is not to prepare people for careers as professional programmers but to nurture a new generation of creative, systematic thinkers comfortable using programming to express their ideas.
In addition to these intentions, Scratch has significant potential for application as a tool for writing. This is evident from the way that children have been using the programming. While there are many who share their own versions of video games, there is an even larger group who use Scratch as a method of creative expression. Simply typing the word poetry into the search field of the Scratch Community site will yield hundreds of results. Users have created haiku, limericks, songs, and artistic renditions of famous poems. This process gives poetry meaning for those who are creating them.
In the classroom, teachers are using Scratch as a way to make poetry relevant to students. Traditionally students look at poetry as old-fashioned and boring. By adding Scratch as a tool for poetic expression, students can put a modern spin on their work. Ai Boon Tan, a teacher/contributor to the ScratchEd website discusses the benefits for students when using Scratch in poetry:
In scratching a poem, the student is able to overcome his reluctance or dislike for the subject because of the excitement of using this medium of expression. He can also complete a perceived difficult piece of work because of the great support provided by the features in the Scratch program.
Storytelling is also a common use for Scratch as a method of personal expression. Scratchers create autobiographies, family histories, vacation journals, fantasies, and fairytales that give a new voice to their interests and talents that traditional writing and publishing were never able to do. So many students who feel that they are not writers find it easy and natural to jump into Scratch storytelling.
Storytelling is commonly used on many grade levels to teach various literary concepts. Scratch has great potential in this arena since it can give visual significance to some difficult students. As teachers we constantly search for new ways to differentiate instruction, and Scratch offers an environment in which differentiation can be achieved with minimal interference. Ashley Lee, another teacher/contributor to the ScratchEd site, provides some examples of the skills that can be examined in a self-assessment rubric:
- My story has a beginning, middle, and end with supporting detail.
- My characters have distinct personalities that are demonstrated by what they say and do.
- I make my recount more interesting by using language features such as alliteration, simile, onomatopoeia, metaphor and personification.
- I use interesting and high quality vocabulary.
A method of writing that I use in my own classroom and find to be effective in teaching many related skills is journalism. Independent Scratchers use journalism as a form of expression by creating talk shows and interactive magazines. Scratch is quickly becoming a part of the journalistic process in classrooms across the country as well as internationally. Students use Scratch animations and simulations to supplement the research and reporting that they have done in other forms. An excellent example of this is the work done by students at Fisher Middle School in their online magazine known as F.I.L.M.
Scratch as a tool for writing is empowering for students. It allows for increased engagement and enthusiasm for writing. Preparing students to live in such a technology rich society should not be limited to instructing them on how to use the results of someone else’s creativity, but it must also include showing them that they have the power and the potential to create new and exciting resources. Exposing students to the world of Scratch will open their minds to new way of thinking abot the world around them as well as a new world of opportunities for self expression. Try Scratch with your students and see the amazing potential for yourself.